Tips to turn a long bus ride into an unforgettable time


Budget travelers are more than familiar with bus travel, since added travel time is usually the first thing in exchange for the cheaper ticket.

That said, this extended time in a fixed location presents a good opportunity to slow down and connect with those all around.  Very often the temptation is to pop in the ear buds, swallow down some sleeping pills, or clam up into a guide book, but we should all know better than to sacrifice the journey en route to the destination. First, let's prep for the bus ride.


T minus a few hours

Consider not even taking the bus and give hitchhiking a shot. Find out if the country you are in is conducive to hitching (a good resource is the Digihitch country guide), and your ride will automatically be more entertaining. You might have to wait a little bit and throw the schedule out the window, but it's a good way to step out of your bubble (I've documented two of the first handful of hitching trips of mine: Marathon hitchhiking: Southern Mexico to Michigan in 7 days over 3,400 mi and Gas jugging and coke dealers: hitchhiking for the first time). If hitching is unfeasible, or not your cup of tea, then

Take a shower or give yourself a good wipe down.  Personally, showers are something I admittedly slack on with little remorse, but it's worth the trouble on a bus. Why? Although you might not be moving around a whole lot, close personal quarters and unknown conditions on board quickly kick up and magnify the sebaceous action.  In conjunction with poor ventilation and hot climates, it's best to know that you did your small part in reducing the noxious build up in the cabin. Secondly, give yourself a pep talk and a

Change of attitude. The ride won't be that bad.  It may be long, but people do it all the time.  And once you really think about it, the ride is ripe with opportunity. And always

Buy some food to share. And I don´t mean a buffet, just some easy-to-eat things like cookies, potato chips, or the local munchies. Making an offer of food is tantamount to making an offer of friendship in many places, especially in the developing world.  It´s a cheap way to show goodwill and openness.

On board

The bus has pulled out of the town, the scenery is getting repetitive, and that feeling of boredom is creeping up. Time to keep it at bay:

Talk to the people around you. Chances are you traveled somewhere because the culture was intriguing or you wanted to meet people from around the world, and this couldn't be a better opportunity. There's a decent chance that you could get a new friend willing to show you around wherever the destination is, give you a recommendation on where to go, or maybe even an offer to stay with them. And if there are language barriers, now is the perfect time to

Pull out the phrase book. Stumbling through a foreign language is the only way to improve, and you might as well get a good block of practice time in while you have native speakers of the language forced to endure your massacre of their language.  There is a good chance you'll end up a great source of laughs, so keep pride at bay.  If you are already proficient at a language, enough to get about, then there is still the real language to learn, so

Bust out the slang. This has even more hilarity potential, and no one will be particularly offended by your dirty mouth since you are the goofy foreigner.  An easy way to do this is to keep a list of slang you hear or find a site with some slang (a Peruvian example) in your target language prior to departure, jot down some of the "translations", and innocently inquire about their meanings.  Leave space on the sheet, since your impromptu language teacher will definitely have some changes and additions of their own for your naughty dictionary. With all those likely taboo'd words floating around and people's ears perked, now it's time to

Learn a song. But not just any song.  Since the dawn of humanity we have been singing to pass the time, and there are groups of songs in every culture that everyone in the culture is at least familiar with (Americans might think "I've Been Working on the Railroad"). Ask what sort of songs are sung to pass the time. If you start to make loud enough mistakes, everyone will hear and try to correct you, leading to the bus-wide sing-along. But that can only last so long, and if you are up near the front, go ahead and

Chat it up with the driver. Chock full of information about the route you are traveling on, it's a guarantee finding out some interesting stuff. Bus driving tends to attract a jovial bunch, and the driver is likely enthused to get questions not pertaining to logistics.


For anyone else who has pulled a long haul on a bus, what did you do to take advantage of the time? Leave a comment!

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0 #1 Susan L. Cole 2010-02-17 02:37
Oh, Tyler, Thank you for bringing good memories and laughs back to my memory. Yes, I had many a long bus ride and many a long train ride in many different countries. As I sit here and read your blog, and laugh out loud, my children are looking at me in bewilderment and asking me what is so funny. Such good memories and it will shape your life, priorities, and who you are for the rest of your life. I will tell you to enjoy, travel, meet the locals and learn...but I think you are already there. Take care, Tyler and continue to have fun. It IS so important.
0 #2 Jacob 2010-04-24 00:07
Gotta admit you're a bit ...shady at times, but articles like this really bring out (hopefully) your honest intentions.

Hey, on second thought, any endeavor worth doing might have seemed shady at first glance, right?

Good luck on the rest of the journey, and I'll be doing some lurking from time to time so keep up the good writing.

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